Obituary of George Anthony Rajkovich
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George Anthony Rajkovich, age 84 of Hollister, CA passed away surrounded by family on Monday, June 5, 2023. George fought and won countless serious health battles in his final years, each time making a startling but ever so welcome recovery against all odds. George had a fierce determination for life, he never cut corners, he always invested himself fully and without reservation - his family, his farm and most notably his sweetheart Lucille were the constant objects of his devotion. He was a loving Husband, Son, Father, Jedo (Grandfather), Uncle, Brother, and Friend. George was a first generation American born in San Jose on June 19, 1938. In 1915 his father, Peter, immigrated alone to the United States at the age of 17 leaving his family and everything he knew in Croatia to follow his dream of becoming a farmer in California’s fertile Santa Clara Valley. It took Peter nearly three years to work his way across the country. Finally in 1918, Peter joined his brother in San Jose and together they bought their first ranch. George’s mother, Nikulina Borina emigrated from Croatia in 1920. Peter and Nikulina were married in Watsonville in 1923 and settled down on their Bascom Avenue Ranch where George grew up. In 1950, the City of San Jose took the Bascom Ranch through eminent domain to build San Jose City College. The Rajkovich family nervously picked up and moved to their Saratoga Ranch on Prospect Avenue. George attended St. Joseph’s grammar school and Fremont High School in Sunnyvale where he raised livestock as a member of the Fremont High School Future Farmers of America (FFA). He graduated as part of the class of 1956. Two years later at the age of 20, George and his older brother Martin, age 22, formally took the burden of the day-to-day farming operation off their father’s hands who was already in failing health. Seeing the writing on the wall, the brothers looked to secure a ranch outside of Santa Clara County. Hopefully safe from the urban sprawl that took their Bascom Ranch. In 1958, George and his brother shook hands with Bedford Lynn to buy 85 acres in Hollister, the Ranch on Bolsa Road. They planted their first cherry orchard there in 1959 and George and his Dad commuted daily between San Jose and Hollister while they continued to work what was left of their Saratoga Ranch. George was drafted into the Army in 1962. He was lucky – he got stationed at Fort Ord and in his 20 months of service never had to go overseas. George always said, Boot Camp was “a piece of cake”… and claimed his real adventure started when, as he liked to say, he “Crossed the Tracks” to court Lucille Romano. An Italian girl who literally lived on the other side of the railroad tracks from George’s Bascom Ranch. George and Lucille met at the Napredak Hall Picnic Dance in August of 1963 after an introduction by George’s cousin, Anne Bilan. That night, George asked her for a picture of herself for him to keep in his wallet. George carried that photo with him his whole life and proudly produced that now 60-year-old photo of his bride-to-be whenever he reminisced about “the best thing that ever happened to him”. They were married in 1965, traveled to Croatia for their honeymoon, and ultimately made the Bolsa Road Ranch here in Hollister their permanent home. It was there they raised 4 children – Marie, Peter, Julie and Nicole. The family farm thrived in Hollister - George started packing cherries and apricots under the Fairhaven Orchards label in 1965. He and his brother opened one of the first commercial cherry packing sheds in San Benito County in the late 1960’s - packing cherries for nearly all the cherry farmers in the County. George and Lucille opened one of the County’s first cherry stands in 1975. Today, Rajkovich Brothers and Fairhaven Orchards farms over 350 acres of cherries, walnuts and apricots in San Benito and Santa Clara County. George was a gentle giant - he was kind and humble and very sentimental. He knew what it meant to work hard and carried an unwavering respect for those family members who paved the way for him in settling here. His sentimentality was not lost on the family’s historic vehicles either - from the GMC flatbed pickup he delivered prunes in as a boy to the Willies Jeep used to pull the spray rig, he kept and restored them all as a constant reminder of the role they played in his success. He cherished the dedication and loyalty of those who worked for him and his many friends. Despite his large stature, George’s big ‘ol smile and piercing blue eyes made his friends and customers feel special and welcome. George celebrated his Croatian heritage, along with his son-in-laws, as a member of the American Slovenian Society (Am Slavs Mens Club) and shared his enthusiasm for his culture by chairing the annual “bakalar feed” for the club’s members. George was also an active member of the San Benito County Farm Bureau who named him their San Benito County “Farmer of the Year” in 2014. The Rajkovich family homestead in Croatia was destroyed in the Bosnian War in the late 1990s. George’s family honored their humble beginnings by making sure that the Rajkovich property was rebuilt and George traveled back to Croatia in 2005 to visit family and inspect the progress. George was a true friend to all who were lucky enough to have known and loved him. He has left behind a legacy of strength and love that will no doubt carry on through his beloved children, their spouses, his grandchildren and their families. He will be dearly missed. George is preceded in death by his brothers, Nick and Martin Rajkovich; his sister Mary Nerich; and his son, Peter Joseph Rajkovich. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lucille; his sister, Helen Estienne; his children, Marie Hoffman (Gregg), Julie Gillio (Tim), Nicole Rajkovich (Tim Hagel); his grandchildren, Marshall, Haydon and Emma Hoffman; Kylie, Grace and Jack Gillio; Ava and Charlotte Rajkovich. A Requiem Mass will be held at 12:00 p.m. on Friday, June 30, 2023 at St. Benedict Catholic Church located at 1200 Fairview Road, Hollister. CA 95023. Immediately following the mass, a Celebration of Life to honor George will be hosted at Fairhaven Orchards located at 1448 Bolsa Road, Hollister, CA 95023. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in George’s name to St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Hollister, California.